‘The Demon Crown: A Sigma Force Novel’ by James Rollins Delivers Action

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James Rollins fans will not be disappointed with “The Demon Crown,” his latest “Sigma Force” novel detailing yet one more way the world as we know it might end. This thriller is filled with action, adventure, science, and a roller-coaster of plot twists and turns.

One of Rollins’ many talents in writing a series is his ability to make each novel as much a stand-alone book as possible given that the characters reappear in most of the “Sigma Force” novels. Sigma Force is the shadowy, secret arm of the government agency DARPA, run by Painter Crowe and his able team. Rollins manages to give new readers a real sense of the characters while not boring those who have read other books in the series — it’s a talent.

In this story, the team is fighting an enemy who has unleashed what are clearly wasps from hell. These huge creatures are truly nightmarish, and even worse is what results after they sting someone. Let’s just say they leave behind more than only a stinger. And Rollins describes it all in excruciating detail — really. Some readers may not want to be eating a meal while reading about the effect of the wasps’ attacks.

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‘The Piper’s Apprentice’ Is the Last Novel in ‘The Secrets of the Pied Piper’ series by Matthew Cody

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Matthew Cody’s books are much beloved by middle grade readers and with good cause. Like his latest trilogy, “The Secrets of the Pied Piper,” all his books feature fabulous characters, thrilling plots, and some really good writing.

In “The Piper’s Apprentice,” the last book in the series, Cody does what is all-too-often missing from last books in a series, he manages to include enough information about what has happened that the reader isn’t lost by reading this book without having just reread the first two books. And if the reader is reading all three books in a row (lucky reader!), he or she will not even notice that bit of extra information that keeps someone who read the second book in the series a year ago from feeling lost.

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‘Truly Devious’ by Maureen Johnson Is a Thrilling Mystery

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“Truly Devious” by much-loved young adult author Maureen Johnson is a fabulous novel. It begins as a mystery about a murder that took place over 80 years ago at an elite private school in Vermont.

The novel is really two stories combined into one mystery. There is the decades-old mystery of Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, who disappeared while on a car ride. The wife’s body was found, but there has been no trace of the three-year-old daughter, and what happened to her remains a mystery. The kidnappers did contact Ellingham, demanded a huge sum of money, and escaped with the money.

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‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend Is a Fantasy Trip Through a Magical Country

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“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade fantasy about Morrigan Crow who, at the start of the novel, is fated to die before her eleventh birthday. She is a “cursed” child, whose very presence brings bad luck to those around her.

Her mother is dead, and she lives with her extremely horrible father, her emotionally distant stepmother, and her grandmother. Only her grandmother even marginally appears to feel affection for Morrigan. In one terribly sad scene, Morrigan hears her father talking about how it would make more sense to educate his hunting dogs because Morrigan will not live much longer.

But Morrigan’s life changes when she is allowed to attend a kind of graduation ceremony at which children are given bids by different entities to enable them to continue their education. To everyone’s surprise, include Morrigan’s most of all, she gets four bids. She ends up with Jupiter North, and they make a daring escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, who are set to kill Morrigan, and go to Nevermoor.

The story is filled with lovely fantastic ideas. Morrigan lives in Jupiter North’s hotel, the Deucalion, which contains myriad mystical rooms. One room is the Smoking Parlor. Townsend describes it:

“The Smoking Parlor wasn’t a room where guests were allowed to smoke pipes and cigars, to Morrigan’s relief, but in fact a room that emitted great rolling clouds of colored, scented smoke that seems to pour from the walls themselves. This afternoon it was a murky green sage smoke (‘to promote the art of philosophization,’ Jupiter told her), but a schedule on the door informed her that later that evening the smoke would change to honeysuckle (‘for romance’) and, late at night, to lavender (‘to aid the sleepless’).”

There is the brolly line, where it’s necessary to have an umbrella to ride. There is the secret room that Morrigan is able to unlock with her special umbrella, gifted to her by Jupiter North. There is Jupiter himself, a sweet and kind man who is half father-figure and half friend and mentor, but also extremely mysterious. He disappears for long stretches of time on various missions and appears, often at the last minute, when necessary.

Other characters include a human-sized cat, Fenestra, who is the main housekeeper at the hotel and Frank, the vampire dwarf. Her best friend is Hawthorne, and he is competing in the trials as well.

Morrigan must vie for entrance to the Wundrous Society, an elite society where once accepted, one’s life of comfort is assured. Everyone who is trying to be accepted in the society has a knack, or skill, that they will use during the trials. Of the many hundreds vying for entrance, only nine will be accepted.

Morrigan is also worried about failing the trials because Jupiter brought her to Nevermoor illegally, and if she fails, she will be deported and then found and killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. Other residents of Nevermoor make much of the fact that Morrigan is an illegal, an unpleasant reminder of current political times in real life.

The trials are all different, and Morrigan seems to win at least one of them purely by chance. But the twist at the end explains several of the mysterious things that have happened to Morrigan throughout the almost 500-page novel.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Little, Brown and Company, for review purposes.

‘A Place in the Wind’ by Suzanne Chazin Is a Timely, Action-Packed Mystery

 

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With “A Place in the Wind,” Suzanne Chazin writes a mystery that is disturbingly timely as well as engrossing and fascinating because of the crime(s), the characters, and the plot. Although this book is the fourth in the series about Detective Jimmy Vega, reading this one without having read the previous novels did not leave this reader wondering much. In fact, as a stand-alone novel, it works amazingly well. The reader will not feel a need to read the previous novels, only, perhaps, a desire to learn more of the backstory on the main characters and a desire to read the other mysteries that Jimmy Vega has solved.

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‘Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead’ by Rick Riordan is the Third Book in this Wild Fantasy Adventure Series

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Rick Riordan knows his Greek gods, as has been proved with the “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series. He also does an amazing job writing a series about Norse gods and Valhalla, the place where those related to the gods go if they die a noble death. Kind of like Camp Half Blood but with different rules.

The main character in this series is Magnus Chase, the son of Frey, the god of healing. In this story, Magnus and his friends must journey to Jotunheim and Niflheim to reach the evil god Loki’s ship before he can leave with his warriors and start Ragnarok, the end of the world.

Over the course of the story, the reader learns that Samirah, the Muslim Valkyrie, is fasting during the day because of Ramadan. Magnus’ good friends Hearth and Blitz must travel on their own adventure, and Hearth must face his very evil father, whom he finally vanquishes with Magnus’ help. Magnus also learns more about Alex, his gender fluid friend. In the last book, “The Hammer of Thor,”  Riordan had hinted that Magnus felt more than friendship toward Alex, about whom Magnus seems to instinctively know which pronoun (he or she) is appropriate to use at what time. In this book, that hint is resolved so there are no uncertainties left.

In the end, of course, Magnus and his team save the world from the end of the world, but the fun is in watching how he does it. Jack, his magic singing sword, is ever-present and ever humorous; Samirah continues to reflect well on the Muslim community; and Magnus, with his self-deprecating narration, continues to enchant and charm readers of all ages. Riordan should be given much credit for his inclusion of many diverse characters and lifestyles in this series.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and humor. Readers should have read the first two books in the series prior to beginning this voyage. Begin with “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer.”

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for review purposes.

‘Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery’ by Jenny Colgan is the Perfect Novel to Read on a Cold Winter’s Night

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With “Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery,” Jenny Colgan rounds out her stories about little Mount Polbearne, a village on the coast of Cornwall that is isolated from the mainland when the tide comes in, and its lovely baker Polly Waterford, her American boyfriend Huckle, and their puffin Neil.

Polly and Huckle live in a romantic lighthouse that is drafty and cold, but which has beautiful views of the ocean and the town. Polly loves to bake, and Huckle tends bees. They are happy together except for Polly’s uncertainty about marriage and having children, especially considering her family history. She never knew her father, her mother is rather a recluse, and she’s always just too busy with the bakery to plan anything.

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‘The Silver Mask: Book 4 in Magisterium’ by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Takes Readers to the Dark Side

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Co-authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare really know how to grab readers and keep them turning the pages, and in the fourth book in the “Magisterium” series, “The Silver Mask,” the pages keep turning.

The story begins in the Panopticon, a prison for magic people. Call is chained and fed slop, questioned daily, and visited by no one. He doesn’t know if no one wants to visit him or if in fact they are not allowed to, but, as usual, he suspects the worst.

Finally, Call gets a visitor: his kind-of-friend, the self-absorbed Jasper. Unfortunately for Jasper, this is the day that Call’s other friends have planned a jail break. Call, Jasper, and Call’s best friend Tamara end up outside the prison, but in the clutches of the bad guys who also helped in the escape.

This is not a story that is a stand-alone novel. The plot is well done and really keeps the story moving forward, and it also serves to continue to develop Call’s character. He must make some important choices, and some of the decisions he makes turn out to not be good decisions, but readers will be able to sympathize. In many ways, from his limp to his insecurities, Call is very human. His frailties reflect the faults of readers everywhere, and they will sympathize with him and feel that they are not alone.

This series is wonderful for fantasy lovers and adventure readers. The story in this fourth book offers a lovely ending but also provides an anxiety-provoking peek at what is to come in the fifth book. Beware.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘The Trust’ by Ronald H. Balson Is a Thrilling, Action-Filled Suspense Novel

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In “The Trust,” Ronald H. Balson, takes his readers to Northern Ireland on a whirlwind tour of Ireland and its troubles — both current and past. Liam Taggert, the Chicago detective who, with his lawyer wife Catherine, are the main characters in all Balson’s books, must deal with the past when it comes back to haunt him in this touching, thoughtfully-written story.

When Liam’s uncle Fergus dies, he leaves his property in a secret trust with Liam as the trustee. Liam is reluctant to return to Northern Ireland for the funeral, but Catherine urges Liam to go and reconcile with the family he hasn’t seen in years. Liam, who has been estranged from his Irish relatives for almost two decades, is thrust into the middle of a maelstrom. After Fergus is murdered, other Taggerts are targeted and some are killed. Liam must use his detective skills to try to find the murderer before everyone in the family is killed.

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‘The Great Shelby Holmes Meets her Match’ by Elizabeth Eulberg Is the Second in the Clever Middle Grade Series

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Shelby Holmes was introduced to readers in “The Great Shelby Holmes,” the first book in the series by Elizabeth Eulberg. In the second book, “The Great Shelby Holmes Meets her Match,” narrator John Watson brings to life another mystery that he and Shelby solve, and in the process gives the reader another view at the complicated genius of Shelby Holmes.

She’s a pint-sized fourth grader who has skipped two grades. Watson is a newcomer to New York City, and in the first book, Shelby shows him around the neighborhood. In this book, Holmes and Watson start school.

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‘Bow Wow: A Bowser and Birdie Novel’ by Spencer Quinn is the 3rd in this Dog-Narrated Series for Children

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Young readers love books about dogs and Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and Birdie is no exception. “Bow Wow” is the third book in the series that began with “Woof” and continued with “Arf.” Adults might be familiar with Quinn’s series about Chet and Bernie, which features the fabulous detective dog Chet, whose narrative sounds suspiciously like that of Bowser.

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